JewishGen Danzig/Gdańsk SIG Presents:
Visiting, and Revisiting the Gdańsk/Danzig Jewish Cemetery
by Jan M. Engel
Originally published in Zichron Note: the Newsletter of the San Francisco Bay Area Jewish Genealogical Society (Summer 1991, vol. XI, nr. 2, p. 8) and reprinted here with kind permission of Beth Galleto, Editor of Zichron Note.
Prior to World War II, I lived with my parents in Danzig, which was, at that time, an independent "Free State," and now is the city of Gdańsk, part of Poland. As a young boy, actually on the day of my scheduled (and postponed) Bar Mizvah, my mother died from cancer. I have very intense memories of my first major loss, including the funeral and, later, the placing of the monument, etc., at what was then known as the "Jüdischer Friedhof, Stolzenberg".
After surviving the war in England, I returned to Gdańsk for a visit in 1966. I hired a taxi (which in those days was much cheaper than renting a car) and asked the driver to take me to the Jewish cemetery, only to be told that he was quite sure that there was no such cemetery and none was indicated on any maps, or city directories at the time. Although it had been some 28 years, since I had last visited there, I felt that I could direct the driver to the cemetery from memory, and he obliged. However, when we arrived at what I believed was the location of the cemetery, there was no sign of it, only an empty field with waist-high weeds growing on it. I asked the driver to park his cab, and I walked into the field looking for any sign of what I clearly remembered as a beautiful cemetery with many tombstones, monuments, etc. I, suddenly, stumbled over a rock and fell to the ground. The rock clearly was a piece of black granite, polished on one side. Further search, on my hands and knees, produced several smaller pieces of granite, scattered within the weeds, some clearly marked with Hebrew letters. I knew I had found the right place. Unfortunately, that is all that appeared to remain of the, once extensive, Jewish cemetery. Subsequent enquiries all claimed that the Germans destroyed the cemetery, when they occupied Danzig during the war.
Last October I visited Gdańsk again. While giving a friend a tour of the city, I thought I'd show her where the Jewish cemetery was once located. This time, though I was driving a car, I made an incorrect turn, and wound up on a street behind the original cemetery site. I saw an old man walking on this street, and asked him whether there was a shortcut that would take me to the front of the cemetery. His answer suprised me. "Sure," he could show me how to get there, but if I wanted to see what was left of the cemetery, the only way to see it, was to park my car where it was, follow him to his house, and to take a path from there. My friend and I took his advice, walked the quarter mile to his house, and then followed him along a path winding steeply up a hill behind his home. Sure enough, at the top of the hill we came upon remnants of the Jewish cemetery. The graves had monuments that were lying on the ground, almost even with it, and dated from the late 18th century. This, obviously, was a much older part of the original cemetery, and adjoined the newer section, which I knew and which would normally be approached from the opposite side.
On returning to his home with our guide, we learned that he was a resettled Pole from the Ukraine, who had been living in this house since late 1945. He also told us that the cemetery survived the war without any significant damage. It was only some time after his moving to Gdansk, possibly in 1947, or 1948, that there were some anti-Jewish demonstrations, and that the cemetery was destroyed by Polish communist hooligans.
Current street maps of Gdańsk, now identify the location of this cemetery site. It is at the intersection of the Stoczniowów and Cmentarna (pre-war: Grundgasse) streets.